The Wet Cat Food Vs. Dry Cat Food Debate

Every cat parent has a different opinion on wet cat food vs. dry cat food. To understand the issues, you need to know a few things about cat nutrition.

A brown cat eating food and licking his lips.
A brown cat eating food and licking his lips. Photography ©bluebeat76 | Thinkstock.

Get together a group of cat parents, and everyone will have a different opinion when it comes to wet cat food vs. dry cat food. To understand the issues with wet cat food vs. dry cat food, you need to understand the cat’s physiology.

First, what should cats eat and why? What nutrients do cats need?

A hungry cat with a puzzle feeder.
Before diving into the wet cat food vs. dry cat food debate, let’s look at what nutrients cats need. Photography by Tierfotoagentur | Alamy Stock Photo.

While dogs are omnivorous and able to break down and digest both vegetable and animal protein, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need muscle-based meats in their diets.

Although theoretically, they might get enough protein from plant material to exist, they need the amino acid taurine in order to thrive. Taurine is found primarily in the muscle meat of animals.

Carnivores have short digestive systems because they are not required to break down the tough cellulose found in plants. Introducing cellulose into their diets invites digestive problems.

On the whole, wet cat food, with the primary ingredient being meat or fish, provides a meal that’s better suited to a cat’s dietary needs.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that canned wet cat food is always a better choice than dry cat food. The best dry cat food is better for your cat than the worst canned food. If you feed your cat premium cat food, she is likely to thrive whether the food is in wet or dry form.

Here’s what you should consider when deciding to feed your cat wet cat food vs. dry cat food

The Dry Cat Food Debate

A brown tabby cat eating a bowl of dry food. Photography ©g215 | Thinkstock.
Is dry cat food better for cats? Photography ©g215 | Thinkstock.

Many cat owners leave dry food out all the time for their cats, which is called free feeding. Some supplement it with wet food, some don’t. Is it the equivalent of feeding your kids a steady diet of fast food for the sake of convenience?

If your cat only eats dry food, she is likely to be getting less nutrition than a cat eating wet food. Many low-quality dry foods contain a lot of fillers. In the wild, carbohydrates are only about five percent of a cat’s diet — what she gets from ingesting the stomach contents of her prey.

Some fillers are necessary for the extrusion process that shapes the dry food nuggets during manufacturing. But they’re also included as a cost-savings, since they’re a cheaper ingredient than meat.

Dehydration and dry cat food diets

Prey consumed by wild cats is about 70 percent water. Canned wet cat food averages 78 percent, and dry cat food averages 10 percent. Cats on dry food diets usually don’t get enough water. They can become chronically dehydrated, which contributes to health problems like Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) and urinary crystals.

According to Purina, if you feed your cat dry food, she should drink approximately one cup of water for every ten pounds of body weight in a 24-hour period. In warm weather, she’ll need even more. Cats on canned food diets only need to consume one-third to one-half that amount of water.

If you feed your cat kibble, it’s essential to provide a clean, appealing source of fresh water. Pet water fountains work well in enticing cats to drink, and their filters ensure a fresh, clean water supply.

Dry cat food and cat obesity and and feline diabetes

Cats on dry food-only diets are slightly more prone to obesity and diabetes than cats who eat wet cat food. Part of this is due to the high carbohydrate levels in many kinds of kibble, and part is due to the free-choice feeding of dry cat food which gives cats 24-hour access to food.

If your cat is getting a little pudgy, ration the dry food rather than serving it all-you-can-eat style. To avoid feline diabetes, stick to a premium dry food or switch to a canned food diet.

The Wet Cat Food Debate

A closeup of a gray cat eating wet food.
Is wet cat food better for cats? Photography by africa studio/shutterstock.

So, that means wet cat food is better, right? Well, not necessarily. A very cheaply produced wet food is not better for your cat than a premium quality dry food.

Check the ingredients. It should list an animal protein source as its number one ingredient, and ideally, it should not contain meat by-products.

Some argue that a canned food diet can lead to dental problems including gingivitis, but if you adhere to a schedule of regular dental checkups and cleanings, this really isn’t an issue.

The bottom line on the wet cat food vs. dry cat food debate? Choose a premium cat food!

Ultimately, whether choosing wet cat food vs. dry cat food, it should be a premium cat food with quality ingredients. The higher initial cost will be offset long-term by reduced veterinary costs.

Tell us: What’s your opinion on wet cat food vs. dry cat food? What do you feed your cat?

Thumbnail: Photography ©bluebeat76 | Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the authors

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136 thoughts on “The Wet Cat Food Vs. Dry Cat Food Debate”

  1. A relatively recent discovery is the role of feline food phosphorus supplements in chronic kidney disease development. It has been proven that the highly soluble inorganic phosphate salts lead to a much higher risk of kidney disease and kidney failure. When insoluble organic phosphorus sources like bone meal are supplied, the risk of kidney disease drops a lot!
    Dry food have a minimum of 25% carbohydrates to form a stable kibble. Cats in the wild eat about 2% carbohydrates. Quality meat based canned cat foods are about 5% carbohydrates. The urine specific gravity ( SG to the thousands decimal) on a dry kibble fed cat is always higher than a canned food fed cat. I have never seen a cat develop crystals or plug with a urine SG below 1.035.

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  3. Mr.Mr. is a 7 years old American bobtail. He is a beast. He has been neutered! He eats fresh chicken breast (about 1 breast a day). I also have free feeding bowl, consisting of meow mix(original) and Purina for seven be and older cats(which he eats about 1/4cup a day)! And he is crazy about the temptations treats(while he’s eating the treats I tell him “crunch crunch” and he loves that cause I praise him when I hear the treats crunch)! His water is from a Brita filter pitcher(which I change once a week).
    I was feeding him a mixture of chicken breast, chicken livers, pinch of cheese, tablespoon of canned greens, blueberries, tablespoon of ground flax seed, shredded carrots and a cap of 100% cranberry juice! I would put it on a cutting board and chop it up where everything was sorta blended. But all the sudden one day he turned his nose up and refused it! I figured something probably the livers were bad or something turned him off. So we went back to plain chicken breast. So far so good. He’s so pretty to me and I love him sooooo much.

    1. I beg your pardon ma’am .do excuse billyjoe .he’s gone get a good hiding after paw gets to know. Um again sorry and thankya,nothin like this gone happen àgain

  4. Pingback: Wet Cat Food Types: Which Is Best for Your Cat? | ReviewThis

  5. Pingback: The Best Diet for Cats: Wet Food Vs Dry Food – cheap and new

  6. The more I read, the more confused I’m getting. Happy to feed my cat a mix of good quality wet and dry food. My only issue is how much and how often. My cat doesn’t have worms, yet she’s always hungry and is very slim. When I free feed dry food, she eats until she’s sick. Got her as a rescue cat, so it’s a process working out if the issue is more a physical or psychological one.

    1. Hi I have a cat that has quit eating his dry food all he wants is tuna I’ve tried different kinds of wet meat but he refuses to eat any he’s very healthy

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  8. I feed my cat raw (a local company that makes raw food for cats and dogs), I realize that dry cat food has improved in recent years, but I had 2 cats who developed health issues (e.g. diabetes, kidney disease) and I know now that their diet was the cause..and caused suffering and death. I was suckered in by the advertising and also influenced because certain brands were sold at the veterinarian’s office. You think that a vet would know about cat nutrition, but they do NOT. They learn about which kind of big-name pet food manufacturer (the one with the medically sounding name) to prescribe to clients for their cats’ specific ailments. I do not trust big-name commercial producers of cat food. That label of approval on the bags was created by the pet food industry. Cats are carnivores. Let’s say that again…Cats are carnivores,. They also do not have a strong thirst mechanism which means that cats who eat solely kibble are not getting enough of water. My cat also gets the occasional raw chicken neck to eat (cleans her teeth and exercises her jaw). She is super active, has beautiful coat, perfect teeth—and her litter box does not smell (feces are not stinky like those of a cat eating kibble).

    1. I have a 13 year old cat,who has food allergies, food intallance.its not easy to feed raw,or any food of the food out there and he cant digest anything soild,up it comes.He was put on vet food for sinitive tummy, he developed diabetes, and food allergies, I beat the diabetes with a good protein can food,no dry ever again.Hes now eating Hound&Gatos rabbit,and duck.good meat nothing else.balance diet. And goat milk is a merical.

    2. I agree with the above comment,,,esp. re cats not having a strong thirst drive and dehydration when eating kibble,,,,,I ‘have’ fed raw and freeze dried food(easier to hydrate),,,,but found it frustrating when I attempted to hydrate the Carna4 ‘nuggets)….Dr. Becker recommends carna4 if you can’t do raw,,,,,,,,,,,anyway I resorted to using my magic bullet and adding kefir and water to the ground up nuggets so they would absorb to the consistency of a watery pate or paste,,,,,,

  9. Stormie Stafford

    I have two 14-year-old cats who have been fed a dry food formulated for indoor cats. They are incredibly healthy and have maintained their optimum weight with free feeding. I provide them a running water fountain and supplement –sometimes — with wet food or meats cooked for humans. I took in a stray and some feral cats, and they also seem to be thriving on this regimen. I think it all depends on the quality of the food and the cat’s environment.

    1. Ditto. I had 2 male cats that lived to be 16 an 18. They were extremely healthy, no bladder/kidney problems, teeth problems, etc. One had to be euthanized due to arthritis, the other one disappeared after my elderly father let him out accidentally. I now have two female cats 5 and 7 on the same regimen. High end dry food, free fed. Occasional, piece of boiled chicken or albacore. The vet says they teeth like one year olds!

    2. Which brand of dry food do you use? My kitty was on Blue but I changed her to Science Diet 6 months ago.

      My 8 year old has always rejected wet food. She licks a bit of moisture from it and the rest was wasted. My cat seems healthy but I’ve let the shakers get into my head.

  10. In their natural setting, cats eat wet, warm, meat – end of debate – cats do not eat dry leaves and twigs.

    1. Margaret Bannister

      I feed my cat on raw chicken, bone less of course together with a good quality dry food and she is fine. It isn’t warm but I try for room temp…

    2. in their natural setting they are outside and die well before any human fed diet would matter one way or the other.

    3. What is your point? Animals in the wild live much shorter lives, so is that really the standard we want to adhere to? For instance, I just googled the lifespan of the closest wild relative to a house cat I could think of – a bobcat. 7 years. That’s it. I’m sure you’d like your cat to live longer. And no one said anything about leaves and twigs, so I’m not sure where that came from.

      My point is people seem to mindlessly equate “natural” with “better”. Not just with cat food, with everything. But let’s look at what “natural” actually looks like first.

  11. Lucinda J Dustin

    I feed Ghost 1/4 cup of dry food, one in apt and one in catio, each. When it is gone I add another 1/4 cup. His weight is important to me. He also gets 2 Tlb wet food a day, in the morning and for dinner. 1T each. He has an eating station in kitchen and he eats when I am around, otherwise the wet food sits. He also gets 1T of grated cheese a day, if he requests. If he wants cheese he goes to frig and asks. Been doing this since he was about 1 and he is 6. He has weighed 11 lbs since he was three. He just had a check up with new Vet. We moved. And he is in great shape for an indoor/outdoor cat that is now an indoor cat, except for catio. He spends most of his daylight hours in catio surveying his new world. I am told that I an strict about his diet but I want him around for a long time and a fat cat isn’t easy to thin down. Being cats they want what they want when they want it. I know “free feeding” isn’t ideal but he usually eats his dry food at night, access to catio is 24/7 unless bad weather.

  12. Yes marketing is the reason this debate is still going on. Kibble and wet foods can be both bad. I have been trying to feed Lily the best foods both wet and dry. But it is hard to know what is the right kind of ingredients to feed your cat. One person says that one ingredient is bad and another says it’s ok. It’s all about the money, not the wellbeing of the cat.

  13. my kitties eat dry during the week, Monday thru Saturday, then on Sundays they get the wet food. And boy do they know when it’s Sunday ! They line up then, generally they get it as soon as I get home from church, sometimes b4, then their right back afterwards.
    Every now and then I’ll pop the top on a can out of the blue, on some special occasion or a birthday.

    1. I give Horatio wet food in the morning to start him off and Nefi both wet & Dry. However they get dry throughout the day.

  14. My happy and healthy cats get wet food along with some crunchies (kibble) twice a day. They are happier cats when they aren’t free fed. Just like humans, no 2 cats are the same.

  15. I have 2 rescue orange tabbies. One 7 yrs. old and the other 11. I free feed them a good quality kitten food which they totally love. I have been feeding them a good quality kitten food. One tabby has difficulty with larger morsels and the kitten food size is just right. I know feeding adult cats kitten food is debatable but I have been doing this for the past 5 years. I do give them a good quality wet food once in a while. They have not had any health issues at her check-ups since I got them. Fresh water is changed twice a day and is always available.

  16. Pingback: Dry Vs Wet Food For Cats: Which is Better? | Animal Authority

  17. I have two 3 year old female ragdolls that are littermates. They have completely different tastes in food. They both prefer kibble over wet but will eat wet when it is presented as a treat (I have to make a big production out of it). As for the kibble, they won’t eat each other’s kibble (it’s hilarious but expensive).

    We free feed them but they don’t eat a lot. We also have several different types/flavors/brands of kibble around the house because they refuse to eat the same kibble.

    All of the food is high quality/premium cat food. Our vet says that we should keep doing whatever we are doing because our cats are very healthy.

    Spoiled but healthy!

    1. Gizmo is a wanna be Ragdoll who was constantly throwing up the dry food. I’ve added a half of a portion of wet food for breakfast and dinner and he rarely throws up. He’s still eating the dry and drinking water also. He finally has some meat on his bones!

  18. Just replying to the previous poster, great response man. This article is bs for framing wet food in such a positive way.

    1. There are specific applications for a wet food only diet. I’ve had multiple cats over my lifetime and two of them developed hyperthyroidism and one developed obesity. Our vet put both the cats with hyperthyroidism on a mostly protein diet and the easiest way to achieve that was wet food.

      Same with obesity, it was easier to cut out carbohydrates when we went to a wet food only diet.

      That being said, my current cats eat a combo of wet food and kibble.

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  20. My cat fuzzy is 21 years old and has only eaten dry cat food her entire life. She love purina and never complains. I’ve had her on an automatic feeder that feeds her 15 grams of cat food four times a day for the past 7 years. I also have her a water fountain with an activated charcoal filter and bubbles. She is still getting good check-ups and only has little arthritis. . People who feed wet food do not realize that they are basically feeding their cats Vienna sausages every day. Canned wet food is not any more natural than kibble. Unless you’re catching and feeding your cat live birds, lizards, and mice every day your shut the heck up. I find what people overlook is how important an attractive supply of clean water is to a cat. This is most likely not discussed because providing fresh water is free and not subject to marketing from huge corporations. The marketing is what continues to stir these wet vs dry food debates.

    1. Excuse me I feed my cat premium can rabbit meat and duck,its not on any grocery store,its shipped and 80.00 a case.nothing but meat and salmon oil,and the vidiments and minerals. And goat milk.fresh.

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